Governor: Religious beliefs 'not relevant' to commission appointments

Latest human rights row over atheism

Although she did not make any statements characterizing a local lawmaker’s comments on the subject, Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick confirmed Thursday that religious beliefs of government appointees should have nothing to do with their service on public commissions. 

“An individual’s religious beliefs are not relevant to whether they can serve on, or perform effectively in, any of Cayman’s commissions,” Ms. Kilpatrick said in a statement Thursday morning. 

The governor’s office was asked for comment following an explanatory statement made in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday by veteran Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden. Mr. Eden suggested that government appoint a new chairman of the Human Rights Commission “who is not an atheist.” 

“It is my belief we do not need an atheist chairing our Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission,” Mr. Eden said. “I am sick and tired of some people disrespecting my Caymanian people.” 

One of the protections listed in the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009) Bill of Rights – Section 10 – is the right to freedom of conscience and religion. 

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“No person shall be hindered by government in the employment of his or her freedom of conscience,” section 10(1) of the bill states. 

Freedom of conscience includes freedom of thought, religion and freedom from religious discrimination. It also guarantees the freedom to worship as one wishes as long as the religious practice is not contrary public safety or infringing on the rights of another person. 

Mr. Eden’s comments criticizing current rights commission chairman James Austin-Smith – who has said publicly that he does not believe in God – came after a public dispute in August over the definition of marriage in the Cayman Islands and whether same-sex civil unions should be legally recognized by the government. Mr. Eden filed a private members’ motion in the Legislative Assembly seeking government’s protection of “traditional marriages.” 

Mr. Austin-Smith referred to some of the Aug. 13 Legislative Assembly debate on the subject as “poisonous hate speech.” 

Those comments drew the ire of Mr. Eden, who said Wednesday that his position in the earlier debate had been taken out of context. 

Mr. Austin-Smith said Wednesday that he had not heard or had time to review Mr. Eden’s most recent comments on the matter and could not provide any response. A representative of the Human Rights Commission indicated Thursday that the commission would not be responding to Mr. Eden’s debate from earlier in the week. 

Governor Kilpatrick

Governor Kilpatrick
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  1. In a society where who your family are, who you know and who you worship with have always been significant factors in getting on in everyday life to say that an individual’s religious beliefs are not relevant is being a little bit on the naïve side. OK, so religion should not be a factor in public sector appointments but it is and for the Governor to claim otherwise is nonsense.

    In effect what we are seeing here is a tacit admission that if Mr Austin-Smith’s beliefs had been known at the time certain politicians would have done their best to block his appointment to the HRC.

    During 2015 the Compass has run a number of stories outlining some pretty questionable appointments to public bodies and you do have to wonder if this little spat is simply indicative of how much influence certain people have (or in this case would like to have) over sensitive public appointments.

    The problem then is you start wondering how far this has already gone, where does it stop and much damage is it doing?

  2. @ Ron Clair Ebanks I won’t correct your incorrect saying, as that would just be petty.
    However it is an interesting point, this would be the same Rome where homosexuality was normal and accepted in society, would it? Where citizens of Rome were able to worship whichever gods they chose? Where foreigners from different lands were welcomed….

  3. Cayman is a Christian nation. Tolerance has been a part of that identity through history as Grand Cayman grew from a Presbyterian strong hold (The Brac being more Baptist) to a land of many branches of the Christian faith and now other faiths including BaHai, Judaism, Islam. Faithlessness is also here as a contributing part of society. This country is founded on faith and for anyone to live here they first must respect that basic foundation. You will not find heathens going door to door to spread the word of science. There is no atheist lobby group to get prayers out of schools. I think Eden’s remarks are dangerous. He is trying to "out" or shame a functioning member of a minority who is performing a very controversial job. Human rights should be afforded to all persons regardless of faith or faithlessness. His personal belief is not related to his ability to hold the job. In fact his neutrality on faith may well be an asset to his position. All persons who are trying contribute as good community members should be part of the diverse fabric of Cayman, it is our strength.

  4. Jenny Taylor, off topic, but you’re absolutely right, apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?